1937 : Detroit’s Joe Louis Becomes World’s Heavyweight Champion

June 22, 2018 all-day

Eighty years ago Detroit’s own Joe Louis defeated Jimmy Braddock to become world heavyweight champion. The June 22, 1937 historic bout at Chicago’s Comiskey Park was a career-establishing win for the handsome 23-year-old. Moreover, it was a win for marginalized black America, in general, and Louis’ neighborhood, in particular. After all, humble Catherine Street in Black Bottom is where he was raised; bustling St. Antoine Street in Paradise Valley is where his business office was located.

It was perhaps the neighboring communities’ finest hour. An estimated 10,000 euphoric Joe Louis Booster Club members made the sojourn by train from Detroit to Second City. A variety of notables traveled in a VIP section of the train, including Roy Lightfoot, owner of the all-the-rage B&C Beer Garden and mayor of Paradise Valley; and Andrew “Jap” Sneed, owner of Club 666 or “Three Sixes,” as it was sometimes called. Those communities were the epicenter of black life in Detroit during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. They don’t exist anymore.

Detroit is where blues great, John Lee Hooker performed at Henry’s Swing Bar on Madison Street in Black Bottom strumming his guitar and voicing in his signature style spoken-word Mississippi drawl. Here, he recorded one of his popular hits, “Boogie Chillen.”

The city’s black population skyrocketed from 5,700 in 1910 to 120,000 by 1930. By estimates, about 350 black-owned businesses were located in the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley area. Black Bottom was largely a residential area, south of Gratiot and bounded by Brush Street on the west and the Grand Trunk Railroad tracks on the east.


Some say the rich black soil of the original area gave rise to the name Black Bottom. Yet, others have raised questions about the possible racial origins of the name stemming from the segregation era Black Bottom dance — considered to be invented in black areas of the South, traveling its way north together with the black migrants in the 1920s.

Paradise Valley was essentially a commercial area just north of Gratiot Avenue along Brush, Beaubien, St. Antoine, Hastings, and East Adams streets. It was home to a bowling alley, several boutique hotels, lively bars, a couple of swank supper clubs, and a few greasy spoons.

It’s where big band legends Duke Ellington and Count Basie performed as well as songstresses Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn, and be-boppers Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis.

Source : Ken Coleman, “Black Bottom and Paradise Valley“, Detroit Is It, October 5, 2017.

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